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A Little Spark in Jobs for the Fourth

by Olivia Sandbothe  |  July 03, 2015

A Little Spark in Jobs for the Fourth Turning the Economy Around: The red columns point to monthly job totals under the Bush administration, while blue columns point to job totals under the Obama administration.

As Americans prepare to celebrate the Fourth of July, the U.S. economy continues to show signs of improvement, even as wages remain stagnant. Aside from another positive report on job growth, workers could cheer President Obama’s announcement this week that more workers will be able to qualify for overtime pay.

Last month’s jobs report, released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics Thursday morning, shows that the economy added 223,000 jobs, bringing the unemployment rate down to 5.3 percent. That is the lowest unemployment rate since April 2008.

But most workers’ wages have actually declined in real value in recent years and, with the exception of a few years during the Clinton administration, have declined steadily since the early 1970s.

And there are still 6.5 million people who are working part-time when they’d rather be full-time, a number that hasn’t budged in the past year. In fact, a whopping 40 percent of all those working are now categorized as “contingent” employees, meaning they have part-time, temporary, or on-call employment.

The White House’s new plan for overtime is a step in the right direction. The new rules will raise the income threshold for workers who qualify for overtime pay, meaning many salaried workers making $50,000 a year who were ineligible for overtime previously can now draw overtime for hours worked beyond 40 a week.

“It's one of the single-most important steps we can take to help grow middle-class wages,” the president said in a speech in Wisconsin, where he derided the economic record of Gov. Scott Walker.

This change is long overdue. In 1975, 65 percent of American workers could earn overtime pay. In 2013, only 8 percent of workers qualified. Meanwhile, Americans are putting in record hours for little pay. The Department of Labor estimates that the new eligibility rules will mean a raise for about 5 million people next year.

The minimum wage needs to rise, too. Right now, there is no state in the nation where a minimum wage worker can afford an average one-bedroom apartment without working well over 40 hours per week. That’s why activists and city leaders have been working to implement wage increases in cities from Chicago to Los Angeles to Louisville.

There’s a big difference between simply hiring someone and treating them fairly. AFSCME and other unions are here to insist that we need good, secure jobs that pay a living wage. That’s what a successful economy looks like.

Coordinated Actions Win Raises, Stop State Shutdown

by Tim Welch  |  July 02, 2015

Coordinated Actions Win Raises, Stop State Shutdown

OLYMPIA, Wash. – It took thousands of public employees rallying across Washington state at more than 100 locations over two days this May and June to urge state legislators to agree to a sensible budget and avert a shutdown of state services on July 1.

And they won.

Just before the stroke of midnight on June 30, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed the new, biennial operating budget that funded AFSCME Council 28 members’ first pay raises in seven years, and holds the line on health care costs.

The budget deal averted a shutdown of state services, including the closure of all state parks, the end of most community supervision of dangerous criminals released from prison and the temporary layoff of 26,000 state employees – about half of the general government workforce.

Council 28 members worked all session with a wide array of activities to pressure the Republicans controlling the state Senate to finally do the right thing. That included the “Unity Breaks” and “Unity Rallies” staged simultaneously on two different days in every corner of the state to stop the possible furlough of half of state agency workers if there was no budget by June 30.

In the end, the Republicans’ proposals to roll back many key collective bargaining rights – proposals written by a conservative think tank – all failed, thanks to the public heat Council 28 members generated.

“Through our member education, our member lobby program, our coordinated statewide in-district actions, our calls, our emails, our constant pressure on the Legislature, we narrowly avoided a state government shutdown,” said April Sims, Council 28’s legislative and political action field coordinator.

With the budget, came the raises – 3 percent July 1 and 1.8 percent July 1, 2016. They were the first since 2008. For two of those years, state workers took 3 percent pay cuts, furloughs and layoffs. The budget also came with no increase to the percentage of health premiums they pay and no new surcharges. 

All across the state AFSCME Strong-trained coaches and activists prepared their coworkers for the unity breaks days in advance by passing out flyers, stickers and T-shirts and gaining commitments from members to participate.

“The Unity Rallies are important because they show we do important work serving the citizens,” said Kellie O'Hair, a gardener at the University of Washington in Seattle and a member of AFSCME Local 1488 who attended the June 18 “Unity Rally.”

“A lot of times it's not just the pay. We just love what we do,” O’Hair added. “Our goal is to be the best state workers we can be. But we need funding to do that.”

Celebrate Workplace Freedom!

by Pablo Ros  |  July 02, 2015

Celebrate Workplace Freedom! On this Fourth of July – the day we celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence 239 years ago – consider the freedoms you enjoy in your workplace.

On this Fourth of July – the day we celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence 239 years ago – consider the freedoms you enjoy in your workplace:

• Freedom from 16-hour workdays.

• Freedom to spend time with your family on the weekend.

• Freedom from wage exploitation.

• Freedom from arbitrary termination by an angry boss.

• Freedom to take sick leave when your child is sick.

The list goes on and on.

Since the early days of our nation, American workers – by forming labor unions – have been declaring independence from unfair treatment in the workplace, wage exploitation and other forms of abuse by all-powerful bosses.

It hasn’t been easy. Wealthy bosses and corporations have always wanted a bigger share of the pie at workers’ expense. And they’ve always found willing politicians to help them advance their selfish interests. Today is no different: Think of Walmart, the Fight for $15, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and the many politicians who promote right-to-work laws, which in fact are schemes to take away our workplace freedoms.

Yet American workers have come a long way. Today, not just unionized workers but everyone in the nation enjoys more freedom, thanks to unions.

Now, that’s something to celebrate

Ohio Rejects Union’s Cheaper Food Service Bid

by David Patterson  |  July 01, 2015

Ohio Rejects Union’s Cheaper Food Service Bid Five months after bids were submitted to handle Ohio’s troubled prison food services run by Aramark, where maggots were found in the food in several institutions, the state determined it would continue with Aramark’s services.

Five months after bids were submitted to handle Ohio’s troubled prison food services run by Aramark, where maggots were found in the food in several institutions, the state determined it would continue with Aramark’s services and reject OCSEA’s (Ohio Civil Services Employee Association) bid to take over food services.

OCSEA, which represents corrections officers and formerly represented food service workers prior to Aramark taking over, submitted a proposal with a cost well below Aramark’s and would have saved taxpayers $2.9 million a year.

Originally, the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction told the union that an outside third party would review both the union proposal and Aramark’s. But several weeks ago the union learned that the accounting firm Crowe Horwath, which had been tasked with that review, backed out at the last minute.

“That was our first red flag,” said OCSEA Pres. Christopher Mabe. “No explanation was offered and we were left in limbo with only a couple weeks left before Aramark’s contract was up.”

Instead of getting an independent, external analysis that reviewed both proposals, the state’s Department of Administrative Services (DAS), the agency that holds the Aramark contract, only reviewed the union’s bid.

“DAS is less qualified and more vested in the contractor than any other entity,” said Mabe. “We knew from that point forward, we weren't going to get a fair or serious analysis.”

As expected, the DAS review made numerous false claims and assumptions about the union’s proposal and gave a heavy advantage to Aramark. For instance, DAS ignored cost savings included in the union proposal even when Aramark used the same practices. And the agency arbitrarily added a 42 percent upcharge to OCSEA’s food proposal, with no justification.

DAS also applied costs to the union’s analysis that DR&C already pays for, such as current staffing. The final tally from DAS’s upcharges added a whopping $13 million to the union’s original bid.

“This is not a reasonable analysis,” said Adam McKenzie, an OCSEA researcher who helped the OCSEA team with the bid.

"This was a deliberate attempt to ignore our proposal, because we were clearly the cheaper option,” said Mabe. “We were simply not given serious consideration or any of the allowances that Aramark was given and we are deeply disappointed.”

The union is now considering all its options moving forward.

Wanted: Young Women Agitating for Social Justice, Workers’ Rights

by Clyde Weiss  |  July 01, 2015

Wanted: Young Women Agitating for Social Justice, Workers’ Rights The Berger-Marks Foundation was established with a bequest from the estates of social justice activist Edna Berger, the first female lead organizer for The Newspaper Guild-CWA, and her husband, legendary Tin Pan Alley songwriter Gerald Marks.

Do you know of a young woman who has “stood up for workers’ rights and organized their workplace in the face of overwhelming opposition?” Or, who “has made significant contribution to social justice and whose leadership is fueling social change?” If so, you can nominate her for awards presented by The Berger-Marks Foundation.

Two cash awards are being offered by the private foundation, which is “dedicated to supporting women who organize for social justice and promoting the leadership and participation of women in the labor movement.” It was established with a bequest from the estates of social justice activist Edna Berger, the first female lead organizer for The Newspaper Guild-CWA, and her husband, legendary Tin Pan Alley songwriter Gerald Marks.

If you know of a young woman (35 years or younger by this Dec. 31) who qualifies for either of these two awards, AFSCME encourages you to nominate her. The deadline for nominations for both awards is 11:59 pm EST on July 24, and must be made online using the links below. 

The 5th annual Edna Award for Social Justice is a $10,000 award that honors “an outstanding young woman who has made significant contribution to social justice and whose leadership is fueling social change.” Nominees may be from a labor union, women’s group, workers’ rights organization, immigrant rights group or from “any other area of social justice.”

The candidate for the Edna Award cannot nominate herself, and must have recommendations from two people (the nominator and a second recommender). Nominations for the 2015 Edna Award must be made online here.

The 2nd annual Kate Mullany Courageous Young Worker Award is a $1,000 award honoring “young women who have stood up for workers’ rights and organized their workplaces in the face of overwhelming opposition.” It is named for Kate Mullany, a laundry worker who, at the age of 19, helped organize one of this country’s first women’s unions in 1864, the Collar Laundry Union.

The candidate for the Kate Mullany award cannot nominate herself. Each Kate Award nominee needs just one recommendation. Nominations for the 2015 Kate Mullany Award must be made online here.

Winners of both awards will be announced this fall and honored at a reception on Nov. 12, 2015. For more information about these awards, The Berger-Marks Foundation and answers to frequently asked questions, click here. You can learn more about the love and legacy of Edna Berger and Gerald Marks here.

Florida’s Living Labor Legend Retires

by Mark McCullough  |  June 30, 2015

Florida’s Living Labor Legend Retires After a long and distinguished career, Council 79 President Jeanette Wynn celebrated her retirement at a reception full of hugs, tears and stories following the recent AFSCME Strong Training Conference held in Altamont Springs, Florida.

ALTAMONT SPRINGS, Fla. – Located almost an hour to the northwest of the Capitol in Tallahassee and nestled along the border with Georgia, the city of Chattahoochee, Florida, in Gadsden County is a rural small town surrounded by tobacco farms.

But these tobacco farms gave rise to arguably the state’s most important labor leader when Jeanette Wynn returned home from college and began work in September 1970 at the Florida State Hospital, the state’s largest public mental institution.

Now, after a long and distinguished career, Wynn celebrated her retirement at a reception full of hugs, tears and stories following the recent AFSCME Strong Training Conference held here.

Labor, civic and political leaders from across the state and around the country took to the podium to thank Wynn for her leadership, to share the impact she has had on their lives and to acknowledge that though she may be “retired,” they know she will continue to be guiding them and pushing them to keep up the fight for Florida’s working families.

“Don’t forget that I will be looking over your shoulder,” Wynn joked with the crowd. “So don’t make me tap you and your shoulder and remind you to never look back, always keep looking forward, always keep marching on to victory.” 

Wynn became one of the first state employees to join AFSCME after its certification as the collective bargaining agent for most state employees in 1976, just one of many firsts. She was a member of Council 79’s first executive board and was the first secretary-treasurer of Local 1963. In 1983, she earned her first AFSCME Florida statewide office as Council 79 secretary-treasurer after seven years as president of Local 1963, and was elected Council 79 president in 1998. She became an AFSCME International vice president in 1996.

“I’ve never done this alone. we’ve done this together,” said Wynn. “Yes, so much has come against us along the way but God has always been on our side.”

She received numerous awards over the years, including one from the United Farm Workers for her leadership in building the coalition of black and Latino farm workers back in Gadsden County that led to the successful organizing drive in 1998 at Quincy Farms, one of the country’s largest mushroom farms. She also organized the “Coalition of Conscience” in 2000 to oppose Gov. Jeb Bush’s “One Florida” plan to eliminate affirmative action in hiring, contracting and education, which brought 30,000 people came to the state capitol to protest.

Wynn’s fight for AFSCME members included defeating what would have been the nation’s largest prison privatization in 2012. And just last year, under Wynn’s leadership, AFSCME teamed up with the ACLU to challenge in court Gov. Rick Scott’s random drug-testing policy. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case, essentially agreeing with lower courts that Governor Scott’s policy to test all state workers was unconstitutional.

“We’ve hung in there this long against their attacks by staying on our toes so I know we can do something new again,” said Wynn in a rousing speech. “Let’s do it again sisters and brothers. We can do it because we always have a greater power on our side.

“Stand tall for righteousness, for the working man, for what is right for the people,” she said. “March on, march on. Organize, organize.”  

Ohio U. Student Workers Demand Union

by Will Klatt  |  June 30, 2015

Ohio U. Student Workers Demand Union Resident Assistants and their supporters rally for better pay and a voice on the job at Ohio University. (Photo: Casi Arnold)

Plagued by poverty wages and soaring tuition costs, hundreds of student workers at Ohio University have banded together to form a union in partnership with AFSCME’s Ohio Council 8 to negotiate for fair pay and gain a voice in setting their working conditions.

In just more than two months, an overwhelming majority of the 257 resident assistants (RAs) at the Athens campus signed membership cards to form a union. Resident assistants live and work in the university’s resident halls, where they provide programming and enforce university safety regulations.

They are the first of many departments that have reached out to AFSCME to express interest in forming a union. Eddie Smith, president of the Graduate Student Senate, noted, “At Ohio University, there are more students on a graduate assistantship performing basic teaching, research or administrative support than there are faculty, administrators or classified staff employees. Hands down we are the biggest and most underrepresented labor force in this university. Unionizing has become a ‘no-brainer’ for us.”

The use of low-wage student workers at Ohio University stands in stark contrast to the university’s decision to buy a $1.2 million mansion for OU’s president while refusing to give student workers a living wage – an issue that came to a head in March when a coalition of more than 400 student workers, professors and AFSCME-affiliated classified staff protested the university’s funding priorities. Watch a video of the demonstration here.

Ohio University’s use of low-wage student workers is not unique. Many public universities have opted to move more work onto nonunionized student workers at the expense of fulltime unionized positions. Raising the RAs’ wages through unionization decreases the incentive of university administrations to use students as low-wage workers, while also bringing hundreds of young workers into the labor movement.

Pass the Voting Rights Advancement Act Now!

by Christopher M. Crump  |  June 30, 2015

Pass the Voting Rights Advancement Act Now! In an effort to strengthen the Voting Rights Act (VRA), 50 years old in August, AFSCME members rallied last week in Roanoke, Virginia, with other progressive organizations to urge Congress to preserve the right to vote for all Americans.

In an effort to strengthen the Voting Rights Act (VRA), 50 years old in August, AFSCME members rallied last week in Roanoke, Virginia, with other progressive organizations to urge Congress to pass an amendment by Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy to preserve the right to vote for all Americans.

First enacted in 1965 by Pres. Lyndon B. Johnson, the VRA was intended to prohibit racial discrimination in the voting process. But in 2013, the Supreme Court unraveled many critical voting protections that have been in place since the act’s passage.

That decision, known as Shelby v. Holder, came just as many states were enacting discriminatory Voter ID laws. North Carolina, for example, enacted a voter ID law in 2013 that left more than 300,000 Carolinians unable to vote simply because they did not have an acceptable form of identification.

AFSCME, a strong defender of equal voting protections for all under the law, last year strongly endorsed the Voting Rights Amendment Act (S. 1945) introduced by Senator Leahy. Reintroduced this year, the measure should be passed soon so courts will again have the power to ensure that our voting laws are constitutional.

Roanoke was chosen for last week’s rally because it is represented by Rep. Robert Goodlatte, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over the legislation. The activists want the congressman to hold a hearing to see for himself evidence of discrimination at the polls.

“Hold a hearing, Mr. Chairman!” shouted Brenda Hale, president of the Roanoke Branch of the NAACP. “You’ll hear the evidence [of discrimination].”

Virginia Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner previously announced their support of the VRAA.

The rally, which lasted several hours, was sponsored by the NAACP, the AFL-CIO and the Democracy Initiative, among other groups. Participants came from all over the mid-Atlantic region, including Virginia’s Tidewater and the DC metropolitan area. 

Lawsuit Seeks to Curtail Freedom of Firefighters, Teachers, Nurses, First-Responders to Stick Together and Advocate for Better Public Services, Better Communities

June 30, 2015

Lawsuit Seeks to Curtail Freedom of Firefighters, Teachers, Nurses, First-Responders to Stick Together and Advocate for Better Public Services, Better Communities

WASHINGTON — AFSCME President Lee Saunders, NEA President Lily Eskelsen García, AFT President Randi Weingarten, CTA President Eric C. Heins, and SEIU President Mary Kay Henry issued the following joint statement today in response to U.S. Supreme Court granting cert to Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association:

“We are disappointed that at a time when big corporations and the wealthy few are rewriting the rules in their favor, knocking American families and our entire economy off-balance, the Supreme Court has chosen to take a case that threatens the fundamental promise of America — that if you work hard and play by the rules you should be able to provide for your family and live a decent life. 

“The Supreme Court is revisiting decisions that have made it possible for people to stick together for a voice at work and in their communities — decisions that have stood for more than 35 years — and that have allowed people to work together for better public services and vibrant communities.

“When people come together in a union, they can help make sure that our communities have jobs that support our families. It means teachers can stand up for their students. First responders can push for critical equipment to protect us. And social workers can advocate effectively for children’s safety.

“America can’t build a strong future if people can’t come together to improve their work and their families’ futures. Moms and dads across the country have been standing up in the thousands to call for higher wages and unions. We hope the Supreme Court heeds their voices.”

And public servants are speaking out, too, about how Friedrichs v. CTA would undermine their ability to provide vital services the public depends on. In their own words:

“As a mental health worker, my colleagues and I see clients who are getting younger and more physical. Every day we do our best work to serve them and keep them safe, but the risk of injury and attack is a sad, scary reality of the job. But if my coworkers and I come together and have a collective voice on the job, we can advocate for better patient care, better training and equipment, and safe staffing levels. This is about all of us. We all deserve safety and dignity on the job, because we work incredibly hard every day and it’s certainly not glamorous.”

—Kelly Druskis-Abreu, AFSCME member, a mental health worker from Worcester, Mass.

“As a school campus monitor, my job is to be on the front lines to make sure our students are safe. Both parents and students count on me — it’s a responsibility that I take very seriously. It’s important for me to have the right to voice concerns over anything that might impede the safety of my students, and jeopardizing my ability to speak up for them is a risk for everyone.”

—Carol Peek, a school campus security guard from Ventura, Calif.

“I love my students, and I want them to have everything they need to get a high-quality public education. When educators come together, we can speak with the district about class size, about adequate staffing, about the need for counselors, nurses, media specialists and librarians in schools. And we can advocate for better practices that serve our kids. With that collective voice, we can have conversations with the district that we probably wouldn’t be able to have otherwise ― and do it while engaging our communities, our parents and our students.”

—Kimberly Colbert, a classroom teacher from St. Paul, Minn.

“Our number one job is to protect at-risk children. Working together, front-line social workers and investigators have raised standards and improved policies that keep kids safe from abuse and neglect. I can't understand why the Supreme Court would consider a case that could make it harder for us to advocate for the children and families we serve — this work is just too important.”

—Ethel Everett, a child protection worker from Springfield, Mass.

ALEC Wants to Indoctrinate High School Students

by Omar Tewfik  |  June 29, 2015

ALEC Wants to Indoctrinate High School Students ALEC, the corporate front for right-wing “model” state legislation such as the right-to-work scam, is now working to politically indoctrinate America’s young people with a high school graduation requirement that promotes its extremist views.

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the corporate front for right-wing “model” state legislation such as the  right-to-work scam, is now working to politically indoctrinate America’s young people with a high school graduation requirement that promotes its extremist views.

The “Founding Philosophy and Principles Act,” a bill that ALEC has quietly pushed since 2010, would require high school students to pass a semester-long course on the “founding philosophy and principles” of the United States in order to graduate.  That may sound like a harmless civics course, but the measure, which popped up in the legislature in Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina (where it passed the Senate), has raised concerns among parents and teachers.

Lisa Lewis, an AFSCME Local 1644 member from Atlanta whose son will be a high school senior next year, says she is concerned about political indoctrination by ALEC. “ALEC’s beliefs are not what I want my child to be taught in school,” she said. “I would not like him to be taught a course on other people’s [political] morals and beliefs and then be held accountable to believe in those morals and beliefs in order to pass high school.

It’s apparently not enough for ALEC to go after the working class, now they’re going after the children,” Lewis said. “That’s not right.”

The legislation would require students to learn about the country’s founding philosophy and principles through the prism of ALEC’s own anti-government, anti-worker perspective by focusing on “constitutional limitations on government power to tax and spend and prompt payment of public debt” – essentially promoting the right-wing push for a Balanced Budget Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The curriculum is designed to teach students to exercise “eternal vigilance” against any form of government spending, and to hold students accountable to espouse the belief that government spending is contrary to the principles of “a virtuous and moral people.”

In making a play for the minds and hearts of our schoolchildren, ALEC hopes to promote its own version of virtues and morality, which includes drastic cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, among other important social and economic programs. 

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